Sudan needs to dismantle al-Bashir’s armed militias

The tensions between the TMC and the DFCF provide an opportunity for the pro-Islamist armed brigades to increase their movements and actions.
Sunday 19/05/2019
Sudanese protesters chant slogans in Khartoum, May 14, one day  after an attack by security agents loyal to ousted President Omar al-Bashir. (AFP)
A test of resilience. Sudanese protesters chant slogans in Khartoum, May 14, one day after an attack by security agents loyal to ousted President Omar al-Bashir. (AFP)

The removal from power of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir created complications and a delicate dilemma for the Transitional Military Council and the forces of the Alliance of Freedom and Change.

The bloody events of May 12 near the sit-in in front of the Ministry of Defence in Khartoum, which resulted in the death of six people, confirm the existence of sleeper agents intent on increasing confusion and aborting negotiations aimed at finding common ground between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the opposition.

Like many other Islamist movements in the region, the former Sudanese regime formed interconnected military units based on ideological Islamist commitment, ready to come to its rescue when needed.

The Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) were aware of this issue and, in their negotiations with the TMC, they insisted on dismantling the militias and all other forms of armed support loyal to the defunct regime.

Many Islamist organisations create covert military wings but without declared official cover. Sudan is different. The al-Bashir regime’s ideological militias have benefited from all types of support and became an integral part of the ruling system.

This explains why al-Bashir was never affected or bothered by the numerous protests and demonstrations during the past ten years. He was able to suppress them through these tools with official appearance. He could intimidate his opponents while keeping the army and the police away from confronting the general population.

So, there are a number of militias in Sudan that may come to the forefront or remain in the background but all of them understand that the opposition will never accept that they continue to exercise their role as usual and that the success of the DFCF depends on decisive steps that the TMC takes to deactivate those units and cut off their supplies.

The spectre of those units will hover over every bloody incident among the protesters and they will be quickly singled out for blame. The TMC has no choice but to deal with this with extreme celerity and seriousness before it turns into a sword hampering national actions.

There are still in Sudan four special brigades whose fate remains unknown and nobody can control their street movements. One is the Popular Defence Forces (PDF), which are composed of students mostly. Its primary mission is to enroll and train young people within the framework of a system known as the “civil service.”

At the outbreak of the protests in December, the al-Bashir regime relied on the PDF to counter the movement, in cooperation and coordination with a group known as the “shadow battalions.” Their mission was to provoke the demonstrators so that the latter would be accused of violence and to distort their demands and goals. They are known to have committed abuses.

The third wing is the Popular Security Forces, created by the late Hassan al-Turabi, the former leader of the Islamic Front in Sudan. This wing was accused of being involved in the assassination attempt on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995.

The fourth wing is what are known as elements of the popular and civil police force, whose main mission is crime prevention but has also been known to participate in defence of the regime.

Many Sudanese experts said they fear that factions of the armed brigades will play a pivotal role in mixing the political cards, taking advantage of the stalled negotiations between the TMC and DFCF. Such a situation provides an opportunity for the brigades, too, and they have taken the fact that they have not been touched by the country’s changes as a sign of weakness in confronting them.

Sudanese sources said some nationalist youthful forces have been pursuing members of these brigades accused of violence. The sources indicated that the main obstacle to a quick dismantling of the brigades known for their loyalty to the Islamist political forces is the presence in the army of powerful figures known for their Islamist sympathies and who would welcome the failure of the DFCF’s mission.

Opening this file would embarrass the TMC and force it to bring up the subject of the rebel movements and armed groups in the Darfur region and the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces that had been involved in battles with the Sudanese Army and its civilian armed forces.

The tensions between the TMC and the DFCF provides an opportunity for the pro-Islamist armed brigades to increase their movements and actions. Their leaders know the nationalist forces have agreed to bury the former regime and create new ideological bases that transcend the Islamist movement.

They also know this trend enjoys widespread regional support and that it is becoming extremely difficult for political parties with Islamist leanings to have a strong presence in the political scene. So, the option of resorting to militias to sabotage the process becomes very attractive.

There has not been an obvious manifestation of the role of armed elements of the Islamist movement. This is because their political leaders have hopes for the success of the counter-revolution by peaceful means.

However, if the political gates are shut in their leaders’ faces, they will resort to military action and this is the stage that is threatening Sudan’s future.

When they fail politically, Islamist movements do not hesitate to resort to violence to regain power or prevent other forces from taking power and harming them. Whatever the case may be, the result is going to be negative for Sudan. So, the essential step to avert chaos in Sudan is to proceed as soon as possible with dismantling al-Bashir’s armed brigades.